In memoriam Charles Kennedy

At the Social Liberal Forum conference, in the Amnesty HQ in Shoreditch on Saturday 4th July, there was an act of Remembrance for Charles Kennedy.

It had been decided that a minutes silence was too glum an act for the outgoing, empathetic and sociable Charles, so we were asked, instead, to applaud for a minute. Very appropriate.

Every Liberal Democrat leader has his own special gifts. Perhaps we don’t appreciate all their qualities when they are in office, but seeing them in action later is often a moment of recognition of what made them so special.

Charles had sympathy, quick wit and judgement of what was right. He clearly cared for people. He was unique and he established a rapport with many inside and outside the party.

I haven’t seen my favourite Kennedy moment quoted anywhere else. It was his first conference speech after he was elected as one of five candidates. Following LibDem principles, we were asked to put the figures 1 to 5 opposite the candidates; this allows 2nd and lower preference votes from eliminated candidates to be transferred, so that the eventual winner has definitely more votes for him or her than the runner-up. (Even in the present 2-candidate race between Tim Farron and Norman Lamb, we vote using 1 and 2)

Charles started his speech:

‘I would like to thank all of you who voted for me as Leader, whether as First Preference, or Second Preference or Third….”

I think that was as far as he got, because he was drowned out by the reaction of audience applause and laughter.

It showed modesty, a connection with his audience and a wish to reconcile with those who had stood against him. Before that, we had liked and admired him, but then we loved him.


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